When we do volunteer work, we’re often introduced to people whose life and circumstances are very different from our own. Their life experiences can vary so greatly from ours that we find it difficult to fully identify with them, so we run the risk of making volunteer work something we do more for ourselves than for others. It’s natural and good to have positive emotions when volunteering, but it shouldn’t be something we do solely for ourselves – to clap ourselves in the back or to post about it in social media. Thus, it’s a good idea to practice cultural humility when volunteering. Cultural humility is the practice of acknowledging our own cultural biases and the practice of an open and respectful attitude towards people of different cultural backgrounds. This awareness allows us to see ourselves as fallible beings who can’t know everything about other cultures and people which, in turn, allows us to approach meeting new people as a lifelong learning and growing experience.
Awareness is key in the practice cultural humility as it enables us to connect with others better. Similarly, it is a practice which remains a seminal aspect in volunteer work. There are a few ways in which you can practice this awareness such as asking people about themselves so that you can be aware of how they identify themselves. Always remember that people are complex beings and how they define themselves will have a big impact on how they receive you and your efforts. If you understand people – what their values are, what moves them, how they see the world, etc. – you can better understand their strengths and the areas which they need help with. Because of this, you have to make sure that you listen more than you speak. This will help you learn about the people you’re trying to help as you’ll be more aware of their goals and needs rather than assuming what these are. Remember that people often have very different needs from your own, but you cannot learn what these are unless you’re willing to listen to them. Therefore, practicing self-reflection is also an important part of practicing cultural humility. Ask yourself where your assumptions and biases come from. Be aware of yourself and your own experiences because your own identity can help you connect to others regardless of how different they may seem. However, also remember that you can’t make these connections unless you’re willing to practice self-criticism.
Furthermore, there are three important factors to cultural humility that go hand in hand with this awareness of self and others: a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique, willingness to fix power imbalances, and the development of partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others. These factors are also essential to volunteer work as they help us understand ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, while simultaneously opening us to life experiences different than our own. The more we practice self-awareness, the more we’ll be conscious of what differentiates us from and connects us to others. Moreover, it’ll allow us to recognize the existing power imbalances within our world which will increase our willingness to fix them through our volunteering. Finally, it’ll help us learn how we can help, and, with that, we’ll know which organizations we might work best with depending on their goals and structure.
Caritas Smile is one of these organizations. Here, we strive to practice cultural humility as we’re an international and multicultural group or people that endeavors to help the at-need communities of the Dominican Republic and Honduras. However, this same awareness is what allows us to tailor our volunteering program to your strengths and expectations. It’s why we offer internships, the opportunity to give English lessons, or to practice service learning, among many other things. Why not contact us and ask if maybe we have the right volunteer experience for you? We want to help make a better world, and, with your help, we just might be able to.
Talia Velez is a Growth Impact Officer at Caritas Smile, a non-profit service travel program dedicated to making positive impacts and sustainable changes for women and children in developing countries. Having grown up in Mexico, Talia is keenly aware of the day-to-day issues faced by women and children in countries with more economic vulnerability. Visit our site to learn more about Caritas Smile and join us in our mission to help those in need.